The youth unemployment rate is improving, but the mood of young people isn't where Obama needs it. A recent Harvard survey found that a majority of 18- to 29-year-old voters believe the country is going in the wrong direction, and a plurality of young Americans believe Obama will lose.
For black Americans, the economy has been much worse. The unemployment rate for blacks is twice that of whites. While Obama's support among black voters remains in the stratosphere, the relevant issue isn't the approval rate in polls but the turnout rate in November, particularly in a string of crucial swing states where Obama remains unpopular. Obama's 2008 victories in the indispensible states of Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida were almost entirely attributable to massive increases in the number of black voters and young voters, as were his surprise wins in North Carolina and Virginia.
If young people don't turn out in lopsided numbers, or if Obama once again receives 95 percent of the black vote but the black share of the overall vote goes down, Obama's in grave trouble.
And it's hard to imagine many people will be more excited for Obama in 2012 than they were in 2008 -- a point even Obama concedes on the stump. It's not just the sour economy either. Americans who were exhausted with George W. Bush were open to Obama's rhetorical grandiosity in 2008. Now they know the man, and while they may still like him, far fewer people love him, which may help explain why Democrats are raising less money in 2012 than they were at this time in 2008.
Consider Obama's decision to endorse the very super PACs he not long ago denounced as a threat to democracy. GOP-aligned groups have been raising enormous sums. In January, a pro-Romney group called Restore Our Future raised $6.6 million. The pro-Newt Gingrich group Winning Our Future raised $11 million.
Over the same period, the pro-Obama Priorities USA raised $59,000.
Things are ugly for Republicans right now. But that might just be because things are ugly all over. And when it comes to enthusiasm, my hunch is that more people will be excited to vote against Obama than to vote for him.